Filichia Features: Here Come the Judges' Opinions

Filichia Features: Here Come the Judges' Opinions

Let us count the ways that kids learned from last month's Junior Theater Festival in Atlanta.

Musicals themselves teach many lessons - even when they're abridged to 15-minute excerpts that the kids perform at JTF. Elf JR. has a line that says everyone should honor another's "personal space." Dr. Dolittle JR. stresses animal rights. ("They're the friends we must assist.") The animals -- the main characters in Madagascar JR. - urge everyone to "Relax. Be cool. Chill out."

But the lesson-learning doesn't stop there. At the end of each presentation, two adjudicators per pod give notes on what they liked and what they felt could have been better.

In case you missed this theatrical event that takes place each Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend (and is the biggest one that young performers could have ever hoped for) here are some pieces of advice given by the powers-that-be:

"Remember, your prop becomes an extension of who you are. If you hold your prop low, what does that say about you?"

This may seem to be a nit-pick, but any ensemble member should realize that the audience will notice someone whose sword, flag or umbrella is dragging. The implication is that the performer simply isn't into what he or she is doing as much as the others.

"Enjoy those moments when you make crazy faces."

Many times young performers will follow a leer, grin or smirk with a look of embarrassment. Remember - you're playing someone else, so the character isn't you per se. It's that other person who makes the crazy faces, so you don't have to be embarrassed.

"When you play an adult, your reactions must be adult."

Now that's a toughie, for we are dealing with youngsters who have a long way to reach actual adulthood when sheer life experience will take its toll. So how can they hope to mimic adult reactions?

If your lead is playing Carl Hanratty in Catch Me If You Can, have him meet with a local detective. If she's portraying Vivienne Kensington in Legally Blonde, help her find a much-motived law student.

Granted, finding actual counterparts to the title characters in The Little Mermaid, Shrek or Peter Pan is more than highly unlikely. But in most cases, the research is both achievable and valuable.

"Don't leave the stage too quickly. Enjoy being there."

The Junior Theater Festival has student actors performing in hotel function rooms. So there are no wings in which to shield kids who drop their characters and become their off-stage selves after they "exit."

"When you dance, don't let me see you counting."

Remember when you got your first two-wheeler bicycle? Chances are that when you first got on it, you were on training wheels. Eventually, though, you were ready to shed that second set of wheels for you'd had enough experience and were comfortable enough to brave balancing on the two wheels.

Think of counting dance steps as your training wheels. But the day will come when you'll want to shed them. With a little more concentration, you can.

"Don't do 18 gestures; do one or two."

Young actors often believe they're not "acting" if they don't indicate. As an exercise, have your young performers observe people who are sitting and talking to others. Make them concentrate on how often they use a gesture to accentuate what they're saying. Chances are that they'll use very few.

The best advice of all, however, came after an adjudicator suggested a different approach: "Try it. See what happens. It's an exercise. There's no right or wrong." There should be a great deal of that when anyone creates a musical production.

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You may e-mail Peter at Check out his weekly column each Monday at and Tuesday at . His book, The Great Parade: Broadway's Astonishing, Never-To-Be Forgotten 1963-1964 Season is now available at